Never Mind the WMDs, Just Look at History

In his Christmas message to British occupation troops in Iraq, Tony Blair, Britain’s leader of the governing Labour Party assured them that there was “massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories” in Iraq.

Blair again made a fool of himself, and it is interesting to examine the vulgar, shoddy affair of the phantom laboratories in the context of what politicians and officials imagine they can get away with in misleading their unfortunate public.

We should never forget that Bush and Blair (with Howard of Australia ; the US-designated white sheriff of the Pacific region), made war on Iraq because, they assured us all, the Baghdad government possessed enormous numbers of weapons of mass destruction. We were told it had rockets to deliver biological and chemical agents, and the president of the US gave details about the exact amounts of these. (“Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent”, quoth Bush in his State of the Union address.) I don’t know why Dean isn’t making more of this in his run for nomination, but doubtless he has his reasons, probably associated with the quaint notion that criticism of the commander-in-chief is in some way disloyal to the country. This is a factor in American public life that is being fostered, manipulated and milked by the zealots of the right and their aggressively biased media supporters.

According to the vice-president and others in Washington, Iraq had a functioning nuclear weapons’ programme that necessitated its invasion by the US and Britain. But the Bush administration hirelings now want us to forget that in September 2002 Cheney announced to the world that Saddam Hussein “[has] been free — and we know he has — to continue to improve his chemical weapons capability. We know he has worked to and has succeeded in improving his biological weapons capability. And we’re confident he has also begun, once again, to try to acquire a nuclear weapon.” He went even further on 16 March 2003 by declaring “Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that based on intelligence, that [Saddam Hussein] has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr El Baradei frankly is wrong.” (Mr El Baradei, the highly respected UN nuclear weapons expert, had said that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program. He was, of course, frankly, right.)

A year ago Bush proclaimed that “Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” At a press briefing on 14 July 2003 Bush stated with cynical disregard for facts and integrity that “We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.” (In many countries the perpetrator of such a brazen lie would have been mercilessly lambasted by the mainstream media ; but not in the US.) All these claims have been shown to be absurd, as has Cheney’s declaration that there was “evidence” of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda which “involved training on [biological and chemical weapons]. Al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems.” All lies. Ridiculous lies. Blatant, flagrant, in-your-face, deliberate falsity. But the Bush campaign is working very hard indeed to encourage American voters to forget or at least ignore the deceit and deception. The official line about the reasons for war on Iraq is now being amended dramatically.

So, when faced with the uncomfortable facts that there were no nuclear programs ; that there were no chemical or biological agents (never mind Bush’s 500 tons) ; that there was no “growing fleet” of unmanned aircraft for spraying them (a particularly stupid allegation); and that Al Qaeda was never in Iraq (although it now operates there, according to Washington, thanks to the chaos created by Bush’s crusade), the excuse for war has been altered, and not even subtly. Hence the Blair contention about laboratories, which he had selected from the interim report of Rumsfeld’s team of searchers for WMD in Iraq.

Unfortunately for the credibility of Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest (not that they give a damn), the searchers failed to find weapons of mass destruction. All they managed to conjure up was “evidence” about laboratories, not one of which has been found, either. It seems the word ‘evidence’ has been given a very different meaning to that in the dictionary, which is “the available facts, circumstances, etc, supporting or otherwise a belief, proposition, etc, or indicating whether or not a thing is true or valid.” If one has evidence of the existence of something, then the thing must exist. Therefore if there is, in Blair’s words, “massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories” it follows that the laboratories must exist. So where are they? Be assured that if they existed there would have been photographs in all US newspapers, and Fox News would be broadcasting exultant video of the scenes non-stop. But all that the investigators found were some trailers for preparing meteorological balloons.

On June 25, 2003 the New York Times reported that “. . . Mr. Bush cited [the trailers] as proof that Iraq indeed had a biological weapons program, as the United States has repeatedly alleged, although it has yet to produce any other conclusive evidence.” (Note the use of the word ‘other’ in this supposedly factual report. It is intended to create the impression that there was at least some conclusive evidence, which there certainly was not. This is compliant journalism at its worst.) Yet in an August interview with the BBC, the US chief weapons inspector, David Kay, said “I think [talk of the mobile laboratories] was premature and embarrassing . . . I don’t want the mobile biological production facilities fiasco of May to be the model of the future.” It was all baloney. But Blair is a specialist in baloney, so he picked up the non-evidence and broadcast it, six months’ later, to British soldiers. And then the American ruler of Iraq, Paul Bremer, let him down with a wallop.

Bremer flatly contradicted Blair’s assertion about laboratories. Last week he was asked by Jonathan Dimbleby of Britain’s Independent Television channel to comment on Blair’s second-hand assertion. According to the Daily Telegraph (a muscular supporter of the war on Iraq), “Mr Bremer . . . ridiculed the comment. “I don’t know where those words come from, but that is not what David Kay has said . . . I have read his reports so I don’t know who said that. It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn’t agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down.” When Dimbleby finally managed to tell him it was Mr Blair who made the comment, Mr Bremer beat a partial retreat, saying: “There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public.” He claimed there was “clear evidence of biological and chemical programmes, ongoing”. These “show clear evidence of violation of UN Security Council resolutions relating to rockets”. War was justified “historically” regardless of the issue of WMD, Mr Bremer said. “I invite anybody, British or American, who thinks it was wrong to go to war, to come and see the mass graves in Halabja. Come there and then tell me that we were not right to liberate this country from Saddam Hussein. We, the coalition, the British and American people have done a noble thing by relieving 25 million Iraqis of one of the most vicious tyrannies in the 20th century”.” He went on to say “Weapons of mass destruction or no weapons of mass destruction, it’s important to step back a little bit here, to see what we have done historically.”

Indeed it is important to step back and look at the Iraq shambles, because what Bush administration officials have done historically is to have lied to the entire world. And now that their lies have been identified for what they are, they seek to justify their war by pious, outraged complaints about what Saddam did historically. Their line would be rather more convincing had they protested against the gassing of civilians at Halabja when it happened in March 1988. The fanatics seek to justify their war by repeated reference to an atrocity 15 years after it was perpetrated, and at the time of which they piped not one word, not a syllable, in condemnation.

An administration figure has again come close to admitting that there were “no weapons of mass destruction”. Bremer and his masters are desperately trying to convince us that the issue of WMD is unimportant. It is only too reminiscent of the end of the Nixon era. Do you remember Ron Ziegler, the Nixon spokesman who died a year ago? He uttered the everlasting words : “The president refers to the fact that there is new material ; therefore, this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

The Bush administration’s hysterical warnings about the Iraqi nuclear program ; the 500 tons of chemicals and biological agents ; the fleet of deadly unmanned aerial vehicles ; and the other gross figments of overheated imagination are now, presumably, ‘inoperative’, and it won’t be long before the propaganda mind-benders go into overdrive to rewrite history. The process began on the White House website (where else?), with insertion of the word ‘major’ in the report of Bush’s speech on May 1. Remember the headline “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended”? No you don’t, because the White House says it never existed. What Bush MEANT to say, which is what we are now told he actually said, was that MAJOR combat operations had ended. That is what is now in the historical record, White House version. (See Dana Milbank’s ‘White House Web Scrubbing’ in the Washington Post, December 18.)

Orwell described this sort of thing in ‘1984’, which was always a chilling book to read, but is especially so nowadays. “The reporting of Big Brother’s Order for the Day in The Times . . . is extremely unsatisfactory and makes reference to non-existent persons. Rewrite in full and submit your draft to higher authority before filing”. You doubt that the rewriting of truth is almost upon us in the style of Big Brother? Then reflect on Rumsfeld’s shameless lie on Sinclair Broadcasting on September 25. Anchor Morris Jones led in to a question by saying “Before the war in Iraq, you stated the case very eloquently and you said . . . [the Iraqis] would welcome us with open arms.” This is well-documented, but Rumsfeld leapt to deny it. “Never said that,” he said. “Never did. You may remember it well, but you’re thinking of somebody else. You can’t find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said.” Think about ‘1984’ again, when Orwell wrote “Very likely as many as a dozen people were now working on rival versions of what Big Brother had actually said. And presently some master brain in the Inner Party would select this version or that, would re-edit it . . . then the chosen lie would pass into the permanent records and become truth.” We are, alas, accustomed to being lied to, and we can handle that. But it is a different matter when history is rewritten, for the only defence we have is memory, which is exactly what the mind-benders in the White House and Downing Street are trying to defeat.

What a bunch of dilapidated, sleazebag humbugs. They set up red herrings (what Bremer meant, presumably, was Straw Men) and then knock them down. Just as they knock down truth and demolish their own principles — if they ever had any.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website:

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.